Britain's Abandoning of Splendid Isolation Under the Conservatives

Britain's Abandoning of Splendid Isolation Under the Conservatives

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Britain's Abandoning of Splendid Isolation Under the Conservatives

From 1895 to 1900 Britain continued the policy of 'splendid
isolation'. This policy was started by Lord Salisbury in his previous
government of 1886-92; Salisbury was more concerned with affairs out
of Europe then becoming entangled in the Bisamarkian alliance system.
Britain could afford to follow the policy of 'splendid isolation'
because of her naval supremacy. However 'splendid isolation' is a
misleading term as it was not that Britain was deliberately refusing
to have anything to do with the rest of the world as she signed the
Mediterranean Agreements and negotiated boundary settlements in
Africa. Yet in a sense Britain was isolated as Salisbury kept Britain
aloof from binding alliances in case he committed her to military

When Salisbury came to power again in 1895 important changes had taken
place and the two countries he had most feared, France and Russia had
signed an alliance with each other and also in 1894 the Triple
Alliance had been formed which consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary
and Italy; this left Britain the only major European country not
associated in an alliance bloc. During this time Italy, France and
Russia began to increase their navies and consequently Britain passed
the Naval Defence Act of 1889. Lord George Hamilton said in1893: "Our
fleet should be equal to the combination of the two strongest navies
in Europe." Nevertheless Salisbury was not anxious to commit Britain
to either of the blocs as he preferred to try and revive the old
'Concert of Europe' where all the powers would co-operate together in
times of crisis; however this had little success. In 1895 Salisbury
was now getting old at 66 and was becoming under increasing pressure
from his cabinet ministers in particular Chamberlain. The cabinet
ministers wanted a more positive policy, but Salisbury did all he
could to avoid it.

1900 was a turning point in Britain's policy of 'splendid isolation'
as she started to search for allies with much greater urgency than
before. A reason for this was that all the other major European powers

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had alliances so would have back-up in any future conflicts. However
Britain's isolation had been demonstrated by events such as the
Venezuela incident and the Boer war where lack of support had been
demonstrated towards Britain and it had been difficult to defeat the
Boers. Consequently Britain was beginning to wonder what would happen
if she was attacked by one or more powers.

However at this time even though Britain was on the look out for
possible allies none of the major European powers seemed like possible
candidates for future allies. After diplomatic defeats at Nigeria and
at Fashoda France were still hostile towards Britain, France also
resented British presence in Egypt and Sudan. Russia had designs on
India and northern China at this time so was viewed as a likely enemy.
This left Germany as been seen as the most probable ally; however
Germanys Kaiser, Wilhelm 2nd was seen as unpredictable. In 1900
Germanyintroduced the Navy Law which suggested that Germany was
setting out to match Britain's navy power. Naval rivalry later became
the main cause of Anglo-German friction.

Salisbury at last gave up his Foreign Office in October 1900 and Lord
Lansdowne took his place. Lansdowne like Chamberlain was in favour of
a more positive approach to Britain finding an ally. In 1900 the
matter of Britain finding an ally became urgent as Russian power in
northern China continued to grow. By the end of 1900 Russian troops
occupied the northern part of Manchuria and in January 1901 details of
a Russo-Chinese agreement became known which meant that in practice
Manchuria was now a part of Russia. This made Lansdowne determined to
form some sort of alliance to check Russian ambitions.

Lansdowne firstly turned towards Germany where he hoped for joint
Anglo-German action under the Yangtze Agreement. However Germany
refused to co-operate, she was happy for Russia to be occupied in
Manchuria as it kept them out of the Balkans where they might clash
with her ally, Austria-Hungary. This was another failed attempt for
Britain to obtain a formal agreement with Germany; Germany was
convinced that Britain would not be able to find allies elsewhere so
was not worried about negative alliances towards her.

In January 1902 Britain gained her first ally as the Anglo-Japanese
alliance was signed. Lansdowne realised that Japan had the closest
interest in checking Russian growth in the Far East. The alliance
meant that Japan would recognise British interests in China and the
Pacific, and Britain would recognise Japans rights in Korea. The
alliance also meant that if Japan was involved in a war with Russia
then Britain would remain neutral yet if another power was involved
then Britain would help Japan. The alliance meant that both Japans and
Britain's position in the Far East was greatly strengthened. Also if
Russia continued to try and expand then Japan would be more likely to
resist with force; in 1904-5 war between Japan and Russia happened
with Japan emerging victorious.

The Anglo-Japanese alliance also helped gain Britain her second ally.
In April 1904 the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale was signed. This was a
highly unlikely development as there had been years of strained
relations over colonial matters and during the Boer war the French
press had been violently anti-British. Nevertheless pressures for
understanding had been built up on both sides. Even though France
resented Britain's colonial power she did not want war with Britain as
she viewed Germany as her main enemy. France was also alarmed at the
Anglo-Japanese alliance as there was a danger of war between Japan and
their ally Russia; Russia would expect help from France in the
prospect of war which would consequently provoke Britain to help Japan
and leave France involved in a war with Britain. The French Foreign
Minister, Delcassé worked hard to improve relations and in Britain it
was Chamberlain who made the first move in an attempt to sort out
colonial squabbles. However Lansdowne was probably thinking in terms
of a counter-move against the build up of German naval strength
although the government denied that it was an anti-German agreement.
In February 1904 the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war made an
agreement more urgent and speeded up the final negotiations. The
Anglo-French Entente Cordiale agreed that France would give Britain a
free hand in Egypt and Sudan and Britain would recognise French
interests in Morocco. France also gave up her claim to the
Newfoundland coast in exchange for land in Gambia. The Entente
Cordiale had the desired effect of limiting the Russo-Japanese war yet
it was a just a settling of differences not a military alliance.
However the German Kaiser began to view the Entente as an anti-German
move and announced that Germany too had interests in Morocco. This was
a challenge to the new Entente and gradually pushed Britain into
closer commitment to France and away from the German camp.

By 1905 when the conservatives were voted out of government Britain
had gone from a country which followed a policy of 'splendid
isolation' to a country with alliances. During this time the whole
balance of power in Europe had shifted and Europe had also become
divided into two hostile camps where Britain's previous 'splendid
isolation' would have been considered more of a 'dangerous isolation'.
Yet under conservative rule of Salisbury and Lansdowne Britain had
formed alliances with Japan and France this had been a major u-turn in
British foreign policy and one of the conservative's better moves.
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